Should the 50-Something Year-Old Woman Tell the Young Man to Take His Shoes Off the Train Seat?
The different reactions to this story perfectly captures American's massive cultural and political divide.
Someone recently posted about an incident they witnessed, and it inspired a lively social media debate:
I was on a train last night & a woman in her 50s stood up & went over to a young adult who had his shoes up on a vacant seat. She asked him to move his shoes, sat down, then proceeded to firmly lecture him on his manners & lack of respect for other passengers. She told him she expected an apology as she couldn't sit there at first. I've no idea if he did apologize, though he sheepishly put on headphones. She then moved back to her original seat & said she would sit by him again if necessary. The woman's view (when I asked her) was he's taking up a space, is antisocial & needs reminding of civility to others while he's still young.
What’s my take on this interaction?
First, I’ll tell you what everyone else thought online, because I think the different reactions perfectly illustrate America’s current massive cultural and political divide.
Many folks approved of the woman’s actions, arguing the young man’s behavior — taking up an extra seat in a crowded train and putting his presumably dirty shoes on a seat — was classic antisocial behavior that can only be corrected by some sort of social enforcement. The woman performed the very basic function of sticking up for our collective norms.
It takes a village, they said, and she was just one of the villagers. The fact that these kinds of reprimands happen less often these days is why there is currently so much social breakdown and unrest in America.
Some also saw interesting gender-roles at work, attributing the woman’s actions to the power of the “post-menopausal matriarch”: she was the one in the train who could enforce civility, because antisocial young men can’t push back without drawing the immediate scorn of anyone watching. A young girl might have reacted to the woman differently. Likewise, a man correcting the younger man might have elicited a greater and much more negative response.
But some people disagreed with the woman’s actions — even vehemently condemning them. Naturally, someone brought up the subject of disability and neurodiversity.
And even if the story doesn’t include any mention of race, many folks saw a racial subtext. The woman is a classic “Karen,” they said, and this is an example of White Supremacy. She’s the asshole — and also the antisocial one, for appointing herself a figure of authority over a complete stranger who was not really affecting her life. She’s the one who needs a lecture on manners.
In short, for this set of commenters, society never fairly enforced its social norms, and now it shouldn’t even try, at least in situations like this, because the risk of bias against minorities or anyone perceived as “different” is just too high. We should all just mind our own damned business.
I think both sides have a point.